I'd heard about On Writing by Stephen King--a book about the craft of storytelling published in 2000--but it took me years to finally get a copy. I guess I wasn't sure what it could offer me since I don't write in the same genre as he and I've only read a couple of his books. But I knew that as a prolific writer, he must have something important to say. Plus the book's liner notes say he is the author of more than 50 books, all of them bestsellers. Can you imagine? I just had to learn more about his magical powers.
I highly recommend that aspiring writers read this book. Stephen King is thoughtful, honest, and direct about what it takes to be a good writer--maybe even a great writer. Here are the highlights I took away from his simple, sage advice.
1. Write every day. You never want to get to the point where writing is a chore and you forget about your characters and lose interest in the story. Writing each day without distraction and getting as many words down on paper as you can is the one true way to actually finish that manuscript. There'll be plenty of time later for editing.
2. Find the truth. People don't want to read bad, predictable fiction. They want to be moved emotionally and taken on a journey. They want to see life presented in a new way that is believable and with which they can connect.
3. Keep the narrative going. The "narrative" or "action" is king, so let it march quickly across the page and engage readers at a steady pace. Don't get bogged down in lengthy descriptions about the setting or characters.
4. Keep the dialogue real. You need to develop skills in writing dialogue just as you must work on the narrative. A character's words should never fall flat or be cliché. Write how people really speak and use conversations as a way to drop hints, foreshadow, and advance the plot.
5. Show, don't tell. If you have to say your character is angry then you haven't done enough storytelling leading up to the scene for your reader to figure it out for themselves. Let the reader discover the story along the way.
6. Story as a fossil. Like a fossil buried in the dirt just waiting to be dug up and discovered, your story is also waiting to be revealed one idea and one sentence at a time. Just run with it and see where it takes you. Don't try to plan everything out in advance.
7. Write a lot, read a lot. The only way to be a better writer is to read everything you can get your hands on. Always be studying your craft.
Stephen King holds nothing back on his advice to fiction writers. And even though his book was first published fifteen years ago, it holds timeless ideas, tips, and encouragement for all of us.